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Introduction: An integrated approach to climate and the environment
Thank you for the introduction and many thanks to the National Press Club for the opportunity to address you in the lead up to COP21, or the Paris Climate Change Conference, which starts on Monday.
I had the honour of representing Australia only two weeks ago at the pre-conference in Paris. Over the coming fortnight, the Prime Minister will represent Australia at the opening Leader’s Day. I will then take up the baton for week one and Julie Bishop for week two.
In the interim, Paris has been witness to both the greatest horror and the greatest heroism. The human loss for this great city will be ever-present throughout the talks.
None of us can say with certainty how these tragedies will impact the negotiations. But my own belief is that the sense of duty to Paris, to France and to the world will be even stronger.
Indeed the three great modern challenges of security, economic opportunity and climate change will be more closely aligned than perhaps ever before.
My deepest hope and belief is that the world will achieve an agreement on Climate Change in Paris.
Against that background, today I would like to discuss three fundamental directions:
1. The Government’s vision for and progress in addressing climate change, and protecting the environment
2. Our goals for the talks in Paris and our international contribution, including our targets
3. Our domestic policies to reduce our emissions and achieve those targets
1. Vision and Progress
1.1 Climate change as a challenge and an opportunity
Climate change is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of science. Inaction is simply not an option. We all know this.
While Australia accounts for less than 1.3 per cent of global emissions, we are committed to playing our part in efforts to reduce emissions.
I am confident we will reach a strong agreement in Paris that will set the world on the path towards keeping global temperature increases to below two degrees.
I’ll talk more about this task shortly, but for me this is a deeply personal goal and commitment, as well as a national objective.
1.2 Liberalism and the environment
Speaking more broadly, Australia has a strong track record on the environment.
And indeed it has been Liberal governments that have in many respects been the great drivers of effective environmental conservation in Australia.
Throughout our history it is Australia’s conservative governments that have been the great conservation governments.
Under the Menzies Government Australia was one of the 12 original parties to the Antarctic Treaty, signed and enacted into law to protect Antarctica for peaceful and scientific purposes, with a ban on mining, weapons testing and establishing military bases.
Billy McMahon appointed Australia’s first Federal Environment Minister, Peter Howson.
Howson led a delegation to the inaugural United Nations Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
Among the items that received consensus at the conference was overwhelming approval for a moratorium on the commercial killing of whales, the endorsement of an international convention to regulate ocean dumping, and the establishment of a World Heritage Trust to help preserve wilderness areas and other scenic natural landmarks.
Uluru, Kakadu and Christmas Island were all declared national parks under Malcolm Fraser, and the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu received World Heritage listings.
Federal legislation to enshrine protection of the environment in law was created by the Howard Government.
It was the Howard Government that established the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (RET) in 2000, which created incentives for investment in renewable energy.
Recent changes to the RET will see 23.5 per cent of energy come from renewable sources by 2020. To achieve this we will see a doubling of renewable energy supported by the RET over the next five years.
The Howard Government established the National Heritage Trust and the Green Corps – the predecessor to our Green Army. The incredibly successful programme was established in 1996 to improve career and employment prospects for young Australians through participating in environmental projects.
The Howard Government established the Climate Action Partnership between the Australian and United States governments, initiated collaboration on climate change with Japan, and signed bilateral climate change agreements with China, New Zealand and the European Union.
Significantly, John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull, along with others such as John Anderson, developed the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Indeed, throughout the last 70 years, Liberal National governments have had a deep and significant environmental impact.
1.3 Five pillars for environmental protection and management today
While climate change is often the focus of the environment debate in Australia, there is a great deal of practical action happening on the ground that is often overlooked.
Our plan for the protection and management of Australia’s great natural environment is built around five pillars:
1. Clean air and climate change
2. Clean land
3. Clean water
Clean air and climate change
Australia's air quality remains very good by world standards. Over many years, governments have successfully implemented strategies to reduce air pollutants, improving Australia's air quality with positive environmental and health impacts.
However, there are ongoing challenges and that’s why I proposed, and am working with the states and territories, to create Australia's first National Clean Air Agreement.
This is just one example of the work we’re doing that will have a real and significant impact on our environment and quality of life.
We’ve secured Australia’s largest emissions reduction commitment ever from business in the first two Emissions Reduction Fund auctions.
The Government contracted 92.8 million tonnes of emissions reduction in the first two auctions – that’s around eight times the amount of emissions reduction achieved during Labor’s carbon tax experiment – and we’ve achieved it at around one per cent of the cost per tonne of reduction.
I’ll talk more about our climate change policies shortly.
In our suburbs and regional areas, we’re seeing real, practical improvements thanks to the Green Army. Today I can announce that we’ve launched more than 500 teams across the country – undertaking important environmental work such as restoring and protecting habitat, weeding, planting, cleaning up creeks and rivers and restoring cultural heritage places.
The Government is delivering on its $50 million commitment to plant 20 million trees by 2020, with almost 10 million trees already committed for planting over the next three years.
Planting more trees will create green and liveable cities and provide habitat for threatened species, while also helping to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
We’re protecting our native wildlife from feral pests with the launch of Australia’s first Threatened Species Strategy and the appointment of Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner.
We’ve established a $145 million National Environmental Science Programme – with research hubs focusing on Clean Air and Urban Landscapes, Earth Systems and Climate Change, Marine Biodiversity, Northern Australia Environmental Resources, Threatened Species Recovery and Tropical Water Quality.
Along with the creation of the Emissions Reduction Fund, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef has been the work of my life.
I am proud to have overseen new and unprecedented protections for the Reef.
When I became Environment Minister, the Reef was on track to be listed as ‘in danger’ by the United Nations World Heritage Committee.
This would have represented a terrible decline and would have brought catastrophic consequences. One of the great jewels in our environmental crown would have had its reputation deeply damaged.
This Government has taken four major steps to help turn around the health of the Reef:
• We ended plans for five massive dredge disposal projects in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters, inherited from Labor;
• We took the unprecedented action of banning capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, once and for all;
• We developed and put in place our Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan – which will guide the management of the Reef over coming decades;
• We provided $140 million for a Reef Trust which will invest in projects with a focus on improving water quality as part of an overall $2 billion Federal and State investment in the Reef.
These efforts resulted in the World Heritage Committee declaring in July this year that Australia was a global role model for the management of World Heritage properties, that the Reef would not be listed ‘in danger’ and be removed from the watch list.
We have succeeded in having all parties sign the Murray-Darling Basin Implementation Agreement and we’re implementing the Basin Plan – ensuring food and fibre industries remain vibrant and sustainable, and that the river system on which they rely is restored to good health for the long term.
In addition, we have delivered certainty for Basin communities by capping water purchases in the Basin to 1500GL.
We are also investing $2.5 million every day until the end of June 2019 in the future of agriculture in the Basin – that’s part of a broader $12 billion going into infrastructure and the Basin that will improve farm efficiency and productive capacity while returning water to the environment.
Shortly after Paris we will release an Australian Heritage Strategy – a blueprint for managing our incredible heritage sites. Cultural and natural heritage contributes significantly to our national story and sense of who we are. It’s vital that we protect this for future generations.
In addition, we’re investing in Australia’s strategic role in Antarctica, including a new icebreaker to ensure Australia remains at the forefront of critical scientific research in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Funding for this important infrastructure was long overdue and was neglected by Labor, as was the funding for a new supercomputer for the Bureau of Meteorology’s forecasting system – a critical piece of scientific infrastructure – which we have also delivered.
Now we are also implementing a Cities Policy which will focus on long-term planning, better infrastructure and greener, move liveable cities.
These are just a few examples of what we’ve achieved in the past two years, and these stand in stark contrast with the litany of policy failures under Labor:
The disastrous Home Insulation Programme, Green Loans, Citizens’ Assembly, Cash for Clunkers, Green Cars… the list goes on.
And of course, there was the carbon tax which for all the hype and all the fanfare didn’t reduce emissions in any meaningful way. I’ll return to that in a moment.
But in terms of major environmental achievements, with the exception of the National Salinity Plan, it is genuinely hard to think of any major enduring Labor Party environmental achievements.
1.4 Australia and global achievements
Contrary to the views of some, Australia’s environmental achievements are widely recognised on the world stage.
The Yale Environmental Performance Index ranks Australia third out of 178 countries for overall environmental performance.
As I already mentioned, earlier this year the World Heritage Committee examined and praised our management of the Great Barrier Reef.
In just the past month, Australia has made a number of major contributions to the global effort to tackle climate change.
At the recent Montreal Protocol meeting in Dubai, Australia was one of two countries out of 197 selected to co-chair negotiations. We led the push to phase out ozone-depleting and greenhouse warming HFCs. This could result in an estimated 90 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions being avoided.
Australia was also recently elected joint chair of the Green Climate Fund, and we are providing significant financial support.
And in Paris the week before last, Australia was one of two countries to be applauded by nations of the world for our constructive contribution to tackling climate change.
2. Expectations and policy for Paris
2.1 Agreement elements and key initiatives
This then leads to COP21, which is arguably the most highly anticipated global climate meeting since the failure at Copenhagen. And for good reason.
We know that we are not yet on track for the global goal of keeping temperature rises to less than two degrees.
This is why Paris is so important. We want it to provide a framework for nations to review and increase their ambitions to achieve that outcome.
We want a new global agreement that:
• acknowledges the goal of keeping global temperature increases to less than two degrees;
• involves all countries in making emissions reduction commitments that can increase in ambition over time;
• sees countries review their commitments every five years, informed by global stocktakes of progress;
• involves all countries reporting on their emissions and progress towards their targets.
While there remain some challenges to work through in the negotiations, I am optimistic that an effective new global agreement will be concluded in Paris.
While in Paris, I will also be joining the French Government and others to launch a new international partnership on soil carbon. Australia is a world leader in this area.
We are one of the first to include soil carbon in our national greenhouse accounts and already have nearly eight million tonnes of soil carbon projects contracted under the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Australia is similarly leading the way on bushfire management and bushfire prevention practices, including Indigenous land management projects under the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Australia has been working with the United Nations University to assess the potential for emissions reduction through fire management in other countries and we will release outcomes of this work in Paris.
Rainforest recovery is another area where we are leading internationally and it is another deep, personal passion. In Paris, Australia will help lead the push to expand our Asia-Pacific Rainforest Recovery Programme with a global rainforest initiative.
2.2 Our targets
Against those international goals, I want to address both our 2020 target and also our 2030 target.
Critics have claimed time and time again that we would not achieve our 2020 target of reducing emissions by five per cent from 2000 levels – which is the equivalent of minus 13 per cent on a 2005 to 2020 basis.
Today, I can advise formally that the critics are wrong.
The Department of Environment is today releasing our formal national update for Paris. This confirms that we are on track to meet and beat our target for 2020. At this point, our estimates show that we will exceed our target by 28 million tonnes.
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When we came to Government the official figure to meet our 2020 target was 755 million tonnes of reduction.
This was written down to 236 million tonnes earlier this year.
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Today our National Accounts show a further improvement of 264 million tonnes, delivered through the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Renewable Energy Target, revised business as usual projections, and units surrendered voluntarily by landfill owners.
We have closed the emissions gap and go to Paris officially sub-zero and on track to beat our 2020 target.
This remains, however, a conservative forecast and I am hopeful that future updates will show an even greater surplus.
Beyond 2020, our commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2030 is strong, credible and significant.
Australia’s target compares well with that of other countries in the period from 2005 to 2030.
• Korea is -4%
• Japan is -25%
• The United States is -26-28% by 2025
• Canada and New Zealand are -30%
• The EU is -34%
• Turkey is increasing emissions by 231%
• China by up to 150%
• Russia is +59%
• Argentina is +37%
• Indonesia is +14%.
Our 2030 target is the equivalent of reducing emissions per capita by up to 52 per cent – the equal largest reduction of any G20 economy, along with Brazil.
In terms of the emissions intensity of our economy, our effort is even greater – with a reduction of up to 65 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Another key indicator of the role we are playing is our global ranking.
At present, Australia is the 14th largest emitter. After taking into account all countries’ commitments, we drop to being the 25th largest emitter by 2030.
And what’s important is not just naming an ambitious target but also achieving it. A number, a pledge written on a piece of paper, means nothing to the planet if you don’t actually get there.
Some countries have over the years come out with grand targets and received praise for the promise, yet failed to deliver.
3. Domestic policies
3.1 Key existing policies
I am confident we can achieve our 2030 target, but it will be a challenge – as it should be.
We will achieve our targets without a carbon tax and its pressure on electricity and gas prices.
We have shown that it is possible to significantly reduce emissions and tackle climate change without hurting our economy or putting extra strain on household budgets.
There are currently three key pillars to our domestic climate policies.
Emissions Reduction Fund
First, the Emissions Reduction Fund has already had two very successful auctions.
Our approach has sparked interest from other nations and I look forward to highlighting the success of Australia’s strong suite of emissions reduction policies at Paris.
The results of the second auction were announced two weeks ago. In that auction, the independent Clean Energy Regulator awarded contracts for 45.5 million tonnes of emissions reduction at an average price of $12.25 per tonne – $1.70 lower than the first auction price.
Across the first two auctions, the Government has secured 92.8 million tonnes of emissions reduction at an average price of just over $13 per tonne ($13.12).
While I am enormously pleased with these results, they should not come as a surprise.
The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) shares many of the features of the ERF.
The CDM facilitates global action for emissions reductions or removals and operates in a similar way to our Emissions Reduction Fund. From over 4,000 registered projects, over 1.6 billion credits have been issued for purchase.
Similarly, the purchasing arm of the Emissions Reduction Fund has in many respects provided the model for the World Bank's Pilot Auction Facility, which held its first auction in July 2015.
Following the success of its first auction, the World Bank is also eager to broaden and scale-up its Facility to cover a broader range of projects.
Critics said the ERF would achieve very little emissions reduction and this would come at a high price per tonne. The opposite is true.
Bill Shorten likes to say that we’re all about paying big polluters to keep polluting. At times this phrase has been adopted as a description of our policy, but it simply isn’t accurate.
To date, over two-thirds of emissions reductions have come from landscape management: avoided deforestation, reafforestation, soil carbon and bushfire reduction.
It is not big polluters who are performing these activities, but farmers, landowners and small businesses.
Indeed, over seven million tonnes of emissions reduction has been contracted as part of 35 savanna management or bushfire reduction projects. Many of these projects are run by indigenous communities in remote areas of Australia.
Indigenous Australians are supported to remain on their country, Aboriginal language and culture is maintained, knowledge is transferred to younger generations, destructive bushfires are reduced and biodiversity is protected.
By contrast, Labor allocated $5.5 billion to brown coal generators to keep on polluting. The only thing they needed was a bank account.
Second, the safeguard mechanism will come into effect from 1 July next year. It will generate approximately 200 million tonnes of emissions reduction by 2030.
The safeguard ensures that emissions reduction bought by the Government is not offset by significant rises in emissions above business-as-usual levels elsewhere in the economy.
It does this by setting a limit on Australia’s largest emitters in a way that supports economic growth, allows normal business operations and minimises unnecessary red tape.
Once again, this type of mechanism is attracting interest internationally. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has proposed an approach with significant similarities to the safeguard mechanism.
The IATA proposal involves setting historical baselines for international aviation emissions from 2020, and allows participants to offset any emissions growth using eligible carbon credits.
This is similar to the safeguard mechanism, which applies baselines for Australia's largest emitting facilities across all industries and allows them to offset any emissions growth above baseline levels.
Renewable Energy Target
Third, after the phantom credits crisis, we have stabilised the RET with a goal of 23.5 per cent by 2020.
Achieving the legislated 23.5 per cent Renewable Energy Target will be challenging. It will require the same amount of large-scale renewable energy to be built in the next five years as has been built over the past 15 years. This is a significant goal – but one which is achievable.
Australia also has a proud record on small-scale solar energy, with more than 2.4 million solar photovoltaic and hot water systems installed across Australia. This represents the highest proportion of households with solar panels in the world – 15 per cent.
In addition, Australia’s high rate of household solar uptake makes it an ideal place to develop storage and battery technology.
Morgan Stanley recently estimated that up to a million Australian households could have solar storage systems by 2020.
Earlier this month I spoke at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit in Shanghai – and I made it clear that Australia is open for renewable investment.
Achieving zero net emissions from energy will take time, but over the course of the century I expect we will get there. However, it must be done at a realistic pace.
3.2 Emerging policies
To help co-ordinate the current and next wave of policies, we have created the Office of Climate Change and Renewables Innovation.
The Office brings together a number of government agencies – the Clean Energy Regulator; the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; and the climate change and renewable energy functions from the Department of the Environment.
The Office will bring a fresh focus to the role of innovation in supporting emerging renewable and low emissions technologies that will drive down emissions.
There are three additional components that will help to achieve our 2030 target.
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National Energy Productivity Plan
First, we will soon announce a National Energy Productivity Plan that will build on and strengthen existing initiatives. It will be launched soon and we expect savings of over 150 million tonnes of emissions out to 2030.
Second, we are setting new national vehicle emissions standards.
Improving the efficiency of vehicles can assist in lowering the household and business fuel bills of Australians. Transport accounts for around 17 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions and are a significant contributor to urban air pollution.
This should save at least 95 million tonnes between 2020 and 2030.
Progressing from the recent adoption of the Euro 5 emissions standard, we will examine implementation of the Euro 6 emissions standard, fuel quality standards, fuel efficiency measures with respect to carbon dioxide emissions for light vehicles and emission testing arrangements.
Third, we have now begun a review of ozone depleting gases. By phasing down HFCs, we expect to save a further 80 million tonnes out to 2030.
Our climate change and broader environment policy is based on the principle that a clean and healthy environment and a strong economy are not mutually exclusive.
For environmental policy to be successful over the longer term, these two goals must be pursued together.
As a nation, again and again we have actually demonstrated and have been recognised for international leadership in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Montreal Protocol.
In Paris, we will push for a good global agreement and help lead a global rainforest initiative.
At the same time, we can now categorically say we are meeting and beating our emissions reduction targets.
Ultimately, I believe that there will be a climate change agreement in Paris with a process that will keep the world below a two degree change.
And that will be big history in the making.